Dexys’s ‘Geno’ featured on their debut studio album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, alongside a cover version of Chuck Wood’s ‘Seven Days Too Long’. It’s good, but not a patch on the original.
Close to you, close to me… get it? The pressing of the LP This Is My Country looks and reads as if it should be a protest album by Chicago-based The Impressions. However, aside of the title track, the album was anything but. For example, the Curtis Mayfield-penned track ‘Stay Close To Me’ sounds more like upbeat Motown than gritty Chicago soul. In fact, The Five Stairsteps & Cubie version would become a Northern Soul dance floor staple. Both records were released in 1968 on Mayfield’s Curtom Records label. Have a great weekend.
In 1977, Andre Williams recorded a number of tracks in Chicago with a band Williamsput. The collaboration was called the Velvet Hammer and represented Williams’ foray into the world of disco. In truth, the music became more prevalent on the Northern Soul scene. ‘Happy’ was the B-side to ‘Party Hardy’. Pharrell Williams certainly flipped the disc over.
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Some more midweek soul. In the late 1960s, Detroit soul singer and songwriter Lorraine Chandler teamed together with songwriter and producer Jack Ashford, previously known for his work with the Funk Brothers. Together they penned songs for RCA and Ashford’s Pied Piper Productions. Their releases included the classic Northern Soul staples Smith Brothers’ ‘There Can Be A Better Way’ and Eddie Parker’s ‘Love You Baby’. But it’s one of their non releases I want to share today. Eddie Parker’s ‘But if You Must Go’ is the finest of soul. How did this one not get the audience it deserved?! We hear it today because Ashford relocated from the Motor City to La La Land, reviewed his back catalogue under the sun and released this gem on Beverly Hills label Miko Records in 1977.
In soul circles, Luther Ingram’s 1966 recording on the HIB Records is just as famous for its call-to-dance instrumental B-side ‘Exus Trek’. Essentially the same track with vocals, ‘If It’s All The Same To You Babe’ also benefits from an incredible backing band – reputedly the Funk Brothers, Motown’s house band, moonlighting with a couple of session violinists. Popcorn Wylie wrote the track and it was recorded in Golden World Records, Detroit.
After a decade of so with The Wanderers and before a stint with the Latin-Soul Hector Rivera Orchestra, the late great Ray Pollard recorded three solo singles for United Artists, including the classic ‘The Drifter’. A veteran of the Korean War, where he had lost his left hand while serving in the United States Army, Pollard was able to tap into his experiences to create this beat ballad. It would go onto become a staple track of the UK Northern Soul scene. Before he died in 2005, soul DJ Ralph Tee popped across the pond and captured the Vegas-set video featured.
Until DJ Ian Levine widened the gap between the sets of the Blackpool Mecca and the Wigan Casino by playing modern 70s records at the former, the UK’s Northern Soul scene was about the syncopated beat of a 1960s soul stomper. This was intentionally disconnected from the 1970s funk that was filling the dance floors of the UK’s capital. But then there was a track like Lou Pride’s ‘I’m Com’un Home In The Morn’un’. Its release on Suemi Records was extremely rare, which always enamoured Northern Soul connoisseurs. But it was able to incorporate a fast tempo and the jazzy groove of early funk to earn its place on any of the aforementioned dance floors.
Last night, I went to see the new movie Northern Soul. It was a nostalgic evening of label, track and cameo spotting. (Lisa Stansfield, where have you been?) One label, Cameo-Parkway Records gets a special mention. I know the label because it pressed Yvonne Baker’s 1967 single ‘To Prove My Love Is True’. While Baker had had limited success as a soul singer with The Sensations, her voice would live on, because that single’s B-side ‘You Didn’t Say a Word’ would become a stomper on the floors up north. Keep the faith.
In 1963, Oscar Brown, Jr. composed the classic ‘The Snake’ by Al Wilson, which became a Northern Soul staple in the following decade. But Oscar was no one hit wonder – in 1965, he released Mr. Oscar Brown Jr. Goes to Washington, an album of his songs recorded live at The Cellar Door nightclub in Washington D.C. During the recording, he did this… ‘Brother, Where Are You?’. Terry Callier was listening.
Now for a slice of classic northern soul prior to a weekend break. Carrie Cleveland was an Oakland resident and regular performer in the Bay area in the 1970s. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ is a 1970s sound that was released on her rare 1980-pressed long player Looking Up. Sheer bliss. Have a great weekend.
‘Am I the Same Girl’ was first recorded by Barbara Acklin in 1968, but not before the song had already had been stripped of its vocals and put out by the label Brunswick as a jazz instrumental. The jazz crossover ‘Soulful Strut’ by Young-Holt Unlimited was so successful – it sold a million copies – that it actually undermined the success of Acklin’s soul classic version that followed. Whatever the history, Acklin’s vocals shine through.
Dance comes in many forms. Continuing the run of vintage sounds from 1966, next up we have this rare Northern Soul classic from The Steinways. Despite the downbeat title, ‘My Heart’s Not In It Anymore’ has got a contrasting upbeat rhythm to match the best of Motown. And the YouTube video makes for a surreal partnership. Happy New Year!
Picking up the pace dramatically, Rubin’s ‘You’ve Been Away’ is high tempo 1960s black American soul. But just as importantly to the UK’s Northern Soul scenesters of the 1970s, this unearthed treasure had been forgotten on release. Northern Soul connoisseurs liked their records rare, and this one had the added standing that no one knows who sung it. This stomper is just a little too fast to chew gum to, let alone dance. The flat-soled shoes, loose fitting trousers and freshly talc’d wooden floors of the Blackpool Mecca and Wigan Casino must have made all the difference.